Sri Lanka eyes redemption against Zimbabwe

Sri Lanka is looking to pick itself up as the series against Zimbabwe begins this week in Galle after a string of poor performances prompted its coach to quit.

Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews (centre) chats with Lankan coach Nic Pothas (left) and Zimbabwe's coach Heath Streak in Colombo on Tuesday.   -  AFP

Sri Lanka is looking to pick itself up in the One-Day International (ODI) series against Zimbabwe after a string of poor performances prompted its coach to quit.

Angelo Mathews leads the Sri Lankans who take on Zimbabwe in the first of five ODIs on Friday in Galle as it looks to get over its first-round exit in the Champions Trophy. South African Graham Ford quit as coach last week with assistant Nic Pothas taking over in an interim capacity for the clashes against Zimbabwe. The visitor’s tour will end with a single Test next month in Colombo.

Ford’s exit just 15 months into his four-year contract adds to Sri Lanka’s problems on and off the field, which are hampering preparations for the 2019 World Cup. “It is beyond our control. What happens outside the cricket field, we don’t think a lot about it,” Mathews said on Tuesday.

“Fordy has been fantastic, one of the very best in the business. Sorry to see him go. But, we have to move on and look ahead to this series.” 

Veteran paceman Lasith Malinga was this week handed a one-year suspended ban after being found guilty of insulting a minister, but has been retained in the 13-man ODI squad. The speedster has been docked 50 percent of his match fee from Friday’s opening game in Galle and is under six-month probation after comparing the country’s sports minister to a “monkey”.

The minister - Dayasiri Jayasekera - had accused Sri Lankan players of being too fat after the team failed to reach the Champions Trophy semifinals in England. Malinga, who returned from injury to the 50-over side in England, struggled and took only three wickets in three matches. The islanders have just won five of their 20 one-day games since August 2016 with two coming against host Zimbabwe during a tri-series triumph in November.

Struggling Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, on its first tour of Sri Lanka since 200-2002, is led by Graeme Cremer and is trying to build momentum as it looks ahead to the World Cup qualifying tournament in April next year. The African nation has slipped to 11th, a place above bottom-ranked Ireland, in the International Cricket Conference ODI rankings. It lost a five-match series at home to Afghanistan 3-2 in February.

Star player Hamilton Masakadza, who has played only one of Zimbabwe’s five one-day games this year, is expected to bolster the batting line-up on tricky Sri Lankan pitches. Cremer’s leg spin, off-spinner Sikandar Raza and left-arm bowler Sean Williams will lead the spin attack on surfaces that should turn.

Coach Heath Streak blamed Zimbabwe’s dismal form on a “lack of cricket” as financial and administrative hurdles hinder progress. “The problem is the volume or the lack of cricket that we have had,” said the former captain. “We have got to play good competitive cricket for countries to want to play against us.” 

The first two ODIs will be at Galle, the first limited-overs matches there in 17 years. The remaining three games will be at the refurbished stadium in Hambantota. The only Test will be at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo starting July 14.

Squads

Sri Lanka (for first two ODIs): Angelo Mathews (c), Upul Tharanga, Niroshan Dikwella, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Asela Gunaratne, Wanidu Hasaranga, L. Sandakan, Akila Dananjaya, Nuwan Pradeep, Lasith Malinga, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Madushanka.

Zimbabwe: Graeme Cremer (c), Solomon Mire, Hamilton Masakadza, Craig Ervine, Sean Williams, Ryan Burl, Peter Moor, Sikandar Raza, Tendai Chatara, Christ Mpofu, Donald Tiripano, Richard Ngarava, Wellington Masakadza, Malcolm Waller, Chamu Chibhabha, Tarisai Musakanda.

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